Supreme Court Weighs Future Of Voting Rights Act

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Race is front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court today and so is Shelby County, Alabama. The county is suing the U.S. Justice Department, challenging a requirement that it get prior approval from the federal government to change voting laws or maps. Civil rights pioneer and Democratic Representative John Lewis of Georgia says the case is one of the most important in a generation. He says the so-called “pre-clearance provision” prevents the disenfranchisement of minority voters. He cites the case of a black city councilman in Calera, AL, who risked losing his seat because of redistricting.

But Shelby County’s long-time attorney, Frank “Butch” Ellis, tells NPR’s Nina Totenberg that “the South has changed.” He notes that in a county that is 90 percent white, there have been multiple elections in which black candidates defeated white candidates.

“In any race, you show where you had a minority candidate happen to lose, I can show you two where they won with a 90 percent white population.”

Listen to Totenberg’s full report here and hear longtime Alabama resident and NPR reporter Debbie Elliot’s story on the issue here.

Regular WBHM contributor, Birmingham News political reporter Kyle Whitmire, also has a story on the legal case here, including a comment from former Rep. Artur Davis, who says the Voting Rights Act has had the unintended consequence of quarantining African-Americans into gerrymandered voting districts.

UPDATE (12:42 pm CT) – The New York Times is reporting that the conservative justices on the Supreme Court voiced skepticism of the Voting Rights Act during oral arguments this morning. Read more in the Times’ coverage.